Board Hears Early Literacy Plan Updates

Because research shows that students who are proficient in reading by third grade are four times more likely to graduate, DPS is working to ensure 80% of our students meet this critical benchmark. At the Focus on Achievement session December 1, Board of Education members received an update on the district’s  Early Literacy plan.

“We are working to ensure our kids are reading on target from the beginning because it is so important for their future,” said Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Brette Scott. “With the complexity of teaching literacy, the instructional expertise of the teacher is fundamental –and it’s important to understanding the emphasis we’ve put on professional learning.”

The results of the Foundations of Early Literacy professional learning thus far show that schools have made the most progress when they have:

  • Provided adequate release time for their early literacy specialist
  • Designated a highly-qualified literacy expert for the early literacy specialist role
  • Integrated their curriculum planning time with the Foundations of Early Literacy Training as part of their monthly professional development time

School-level training satisfaction rates have increased each month throughout the school year with overall participant satisfaction rising to 92% in November.

“Based on what we’ve learned so far, we are making two primary shifts to further support development of deep literacy expertise in all of our schools,” said Associate Chief of Academics and Innovation Erin McMahon.

One change is to refine the early literacy specialist role and better integrate it with roles in the Teacher Leadership & Collaboration model. This would include developing higher intensity training with specific release time to execute their work, and to provide more comprehensive support and empower early literacy specialists as leaders in their schools. McMahon explained that teachers who are working full-time in the classroom need the additional release time to engage in professional development to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed with the workload. “We also want to ensure that every early literacy specialist is receiving a stipend in addition to the pay they receive for their teacher leader role,” McMahon said. “This extra duty pay also helps us pay for paraprofessionals to engage in this work.”

The other shift in the plan is to focus summer training on deepening literacy expertise for the early literacy specialist role and having specialists work with ECE through third-grade teachers in their buildings.

A panel of early literacy specialists, principals, deans and Guided Reading Plus-trained teachers spoke with the board about their experiences.

“Sam” Susan-Marie Farmen, an early literacy specialist and dean of instruction at Place Bridge Academy, said, “I don’t know how I would do what I do well, and build capacity and coach my colleagues, and learn new things, without the time I’ve been given to do it. You really are having to learn something yourself and then turn and teach it to others.”

“We just need more time for professional development. We’ve really struggled with when we’re going to learn this content. We’ve tried to do it on blue/green days because the only other time we have is in the morning before the school day, and that’s just not enough time to get in depth about much of anything,” said Alison Hansen, early literacy specialist and classroom teacher at Dora Moore ECE-8. “If this is something we’re really going to prioritize, we really need the additional time for it.”

“The goal and emphasis on early literacy is the right place to be and I am really proud to work for a district where that is our focus,” said Jessica Buckley, principal at Escuela Valdez. “One of our strengths as a school is that we’ve identified the strengths of the people we have and we hire to complement that to create in-house expertise. I really support the idea of training early literacy specialists so we have site-based in-school expertise so we can continue to provide the supports needed to align with the diverse needs of our teachers.”

Read the full presentation here.